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Sage UK and Mercer join forces to launch employee benefits service for SMEs

Business software and services provider Sage UK and employee benefits consultancy, Mercer have joined forces to launch Sage Employee Benefits, a service designed to make it easier and more affordable for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to introduce staff benefits packages.

Sage Employee Benefits will offer small business owners the opportunity to provide benefits packages including medical, life insurance, income protection, pensions, travel and dental insurance.

Provided via Mercer's mercer-elect solution, the service harnesses Mercer's strong relationships within the insured benefits market developed from its work with multi-nationals. The proposition is designed to give small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) - looking to provide cover for up to 100 employees - access to competitive rates and leading benefits normally only available to larger organisations.

Research conducted among 1,000 SMEs in September 2011 for the Sage UK Omnibus survey found although two thirds of small business owners (68%) identified benefits packages as being vital to retaining and attracting top employees, only one third (35%) currently offer them because of the perceived cost and administrative burden associated with such schemes.

Matthew Forrest, head of services, Small Business Division, Sage UK, said: "Whilst most employers understand the significance of offering a benefits package, SMEs still have concerns regarding costs and the time required for administration. That's why Mercer and Sage launched Sage Employee Benefits with mercer-elect. Designed with small business owners in mind from day one, it makes bespoke benefit packages simple to roll out and easy to manage at an affordable price."

It is hoped the Sage Employee Benefits solution will simplify the administration associated with running a benefits scheme by providing an online portal, which both employers and employees can access via their PC anytime they need information. The 'anytime access' helps free up entrepreneurs' time allowing them to spend more time focusing on running their business.

Users of the service will also have access to Mercer's teams of advisors who provide guidance and insight on the latest legislation and market developments. This is all aimed at ensuring SMEs are getting the most value from their packages.

Simon Griffiths, principal at Mercer, added: "To think that employee benefits packages are the exclusive preserve of big business is simply wrong. When the changes brought about by the Pensions Act 2008 start to come into effect from next year, employer provision and contribution to pensions will switch from 'nice-to-have' to legal necessity for all organisations over the next few years.

"At a time when pay rises, if they occur at all, are below the rate of inflation, employees are placing great value on the other benefits that their employers provide. We're very pleased to be working with Sage and making the type of benefit that multinational employees enjoy as standard, available to the small business community.

According to Mercer's own What's Working research benefits play a significant role in whether employees join an organisation or not (30%), and the figure increases to 36% when employees are deciding whether to remain at their current employer.

While that particular report dealt with attitudes within multinationals, the same sentiments are evident in the SME sector, says Mercer. With 75% of firms freezing pay in 2011 (CIPD, August 2011) the importance attributed to benefits packages is set to increase.